Eagle County ranch conservation put on hold
Aspen, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. – A Dec. 29 deadline to conserve a portion of the Colorado River Ranch will expire without anything happening.
The owners of the ranch had offered to sell a conservation easement for the 1,000-acre property, and had originally asked Eagle County for $5.6 million in open space funds for that purpose. The deal would have included limited future development on the ranch, as well as public access to the Colorado River through the property and a couple of parking areas for access to nearby public lands.
The Eagle County commissioners balked, taking the position that the ranch – purchased by the current owners in 2007 – is no longer worth the original appraised price of more than $13 million, and may not be worth the $10 million paid for the land.
The commissioners ultimately agreed to put up $3 million out of the open space fund, leaving the Eagle Valley Land Trust to try to find money from government agencies, private donors and elsewhere. The Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Great Outdoors Colorado fund have agreed to contribute a combined $1.7 million, but that money won’t be available until next year.
“There were just too many moving parts to get this done this year,” Eagle Valley Land Trust Director Kara Heide said.
While Heide and county officials said they hoped the ranch owners would be willing to continue negotiations for the property next year, one of the ranch partners said he isn’t so sure that will happen.
“Nobody’s made any proposals,” ranch partner John Lichtenegger said. While he said he still needed to talk with the rest of the partners, Lichtenegger added, “We’re not going to tie it up indefinitely waiting.”
If the process continues, local officials say they’re hopeful they can make the deal work. But the ranch owners are going to have to ask local groups to keep working.
“Unless the owner expresses an interest in doing that, we won’t go out looking for funds,” said Tom Edwards, a member of both the land trust board and the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee.
Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon said he hopes the ranch owners decide to keep working on the plan.
“It’s not in our interest to blow this up,” Runyon said. “But we also have to be mindful of spending taxpayer money wisely.”
Runyon acknowledged that the ranch owners wanted to get the easement contracts finished by the end of this year.
“I understand [the owners’] point of view,” Runyon said. “But those are his issues.”
Heide said county residents will lose something special if the conservation deal isn’t revived.
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Colorado’s Western Slope is considered a climate hot spot where temperatures are increasing faster than the global average. This warming has contributed to more than 20 years of dryness, which scientists are calling a megadrought.